Four Easy (and often overlooked) Tips that Could Improve Your Preaching

Erik Raymond —  February 23, 2012

Photo by Tony Reinke

I have never met a preacher who did not want to increase the effectiveness of his sermon. The question is where to start? We often, and rightly so, head over towards the practical application of the Word itself. We spend more time praying, reading, studying, writing, and thinking. These are good and right. I encourage all of this. But the focus of this post is a little different. Without discounting these I want to just highlight a few practical items that I have seen work well in the church where I serve. I am obviously not John Piper and don’t pretend to be him on Sunday morning but people at Emmaus Bible Church like preaching. I think that some of these practical items below have helped.

Make the preaching on Sunday AM a big deal. I remember visiting with a seasoned pastor before we started down the church planting road. I asked him for a few top priorities for me in taking on this task. He said, “Make Sunday morning like NFL Game Day.” His point was to make Sunday morning, and in particular the Word preached, to be the highlight of the week. In short, he was saying to get people to love the Word and the preaching of it. I have endeavored to do this. We are not there but…it is something I am chasing.

Encourage (expect) members to do their own sermon prep. We recently have gone through What is a Healthy Church Member in our home groups. In that book Thabiti has a chapter on being an expositional listener. Each group spent time talking about what this means for us as a church and individuals. We have also done several blog posts on the church website discussing the book Expository Listening. One thing this does is put the Sunday morning gathering and the sermon in particular on the table. It helps with practical things like reading the passage beforehand, getting some good rest on Saturday night, praying for light, praying for the preacher, etc. There are some really practical items that the church member can do in their own sermon prep. As a church we are now going through the practice of what it means to be an expository listener. We discuss this in our small groups throughout the month. The priority and the practice are gaining traction. (example of blog article)

Promote the sermon by providing the text and the outline in advance. This is so easy and so good. In our context we send out the Scripture passage and outline on a Thursday or Friday. I post it on the church website and include with it a snippet about the sermon. I have heard from numerous people of how this practice has helped them with the previous two observations. It also encourages Dads to lead by talking to their family about the sermon prior to and after it. Again, very easy and very beneficial. (example)

Provide an outline. If you provide the info in advance then you might as well print it out and give it to folks. Early on my wife encouraged me to do this and it has paid huge dividends. The handout not only provides a road map of where you are going on Sunday morning but it also teaches how to break apart a passage. However subtle this might be it is significant. In our small groups when people are talking about the sermon together we see many people pull out their handouts with all kinds of notes and application points written down. They are taking the sermon home with them. It’s very helpful. (here is an example, again nothing too profound about this).

Engage people with the text. After preaching it is good to talk with people about…the text. Interact, cement, encourage, perhaps even correct. Bang those homiletical nails in a little further. If you just spent 45 minutes hammering this home don’t shift to talk about the weather or your garden. Create the environment to talk about the passage. Talk about God. This is always good.

These are practical tips that may or may not help you. I share them because they have helped us in our context. If you have other tips please send them my way.

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

17 responses to Four Easy (and often overlooked) Tips that Could Improve Your Preaching

  1. Great advice. I hadn’t thought of sending out an outline. Will give it a shot next week. BTW, I’m preaching on Romans 9 this Sunday, so prayers are appreciated!

  2. Erik,

    Good thoughts. We do all the above, here at Cornerstone, with the exception of making the outline available beforehand. For one, about half our congregation either doesn’t own a computer (I know, a bunch of Luddites) or use the internet (I think they listen to too much Christian radio that speaks of all the evils of the Internet, only to close their program with their email address and website URL).

    Stand firm, brother, and having done all, stand.

  3. I was opposed to providing an outline in the past, mainly because it became a crutch, as I saw it, for the congregation. They wouldn’t bring their bible because the handout was all they needed. In addition to that, I saw this as something the pastor was doing, to make the church service more appealing to those visiting, particularly because he had (and still does) implement the Purpose Driven Church strategies for his seeker-sensitive sermons. It’s sad that he doesn’t realize that what he is doing is weakening the congregation by doing this, particularly because those sermons are not strong in doctrine, theology, or exegetical study, but rather filled with several stories.

    But this post is something I would strongly consider implementing because of my priority to preach expositionally and as a church planter too. I can see how this would be very beneficial for a new church plant community. I think this would be helpful to where I currently serve as an associate pastor, where our congregation is on the older side, but not too afraid of the computer. I’ll suggest emailing the outline in advance or printing one and having it inserted in the bulletin.

    Thanks for sharing this Erik.

    • I can see your alarm with PDC or SS stuff. At the same time there are things that they uncovered and implemented that are helpful when done properly. I didn’t think of this as one of them but can see your connection. Anything like this could become that crutch, but you have to work against that too.

      • Yes, I wouldn’t want this to become a crutch for the congregation, even as it is intended to positively help them. I guess I would emphasize the importance that the outline isn’t meant to replace the need for bringing your bible to church, rather it is to complement one’s hearing of the sermon.

        It’s definitely a great resource to refer to throughout the week after hearing the sermon, helping to deepen the recall of the sermon.

  4. John T. “Jack” Jeffery February 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Amen to all of the above! It can be very exciting when everyone is engaged by the exposition of God’s Word in these ways, some of which are very simple helps.

  5. Great suggestions – actually I’ve just come into the study to type up my outline for tomorrow

    I give out an outline – you can see some of them on the website – for a number of reasons.

    It helps people who arent used to taking notes – I was finding that some people wanted to take notes, but werent used to the practice and were missing chunks of the sermon because they were too busy writing.

    I am also church planting among people who arent used to a 35 min sermon that explains the bible, and it means that they can go back home with material that they can look at for the rest of the week, as well as helping them follow during the sermon.

    It means that parents who maybe get distracted looking after their little kids can re-orient themselves with the flow of the sermon.

    Several people have bought files to keep the outlines in – so hopefully it provides a resource to aid in understanding books of the bible.

  6. PS – typing up my outline helps clarify the sermon

  7. I just e-mailed the sermon outline and a little snippet from my manuscript as a preview for tomorrow. Thanks for the good advice!

  8. I am pastoring my third church plant and used to do everything you said here. That was until I was challenged by something Martyn Lloyd Jones said about note taking and found that, upon a personal reflection of my own note-taking habits, he was dead on. Searching for the quote, I came across this blog entry:

    http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2011/05/thoughts-on-note-taking-during-sermons.html

    He says it better than I could here in this space. Just something to mull over and consider.

    • doug–
      I’m addicted to taking notes because it helps me remember or I recall scripture that emphasizes points that are made or sometimes I just want to be a Berean and verify that something is so.

      And yet I wonder how the disciples heard the Messiah and still recorded him so accurately later without taking notes. How did they hear so well?

      Your point is very challenging! Thank you!

  9. Edwards believed, “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered” (Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival, Yale ed. vol. 4, pg. 397). Would you be able to interact with that statement in regard to note taking during a sermon? That would help me think through some things on preaching. Thanks, and God bless your ministry!

  10. I also would agree with the benefits of providing an outline, however, I personally do not encourage note taking during my sermons as I also tend to believe what Lloyd-Jones and Edwards had to say about the impact the sermon as it is being delivered and I tend to think (though I am sure there are exceptions) that note-taking during a sermon can prove to be more of a hindrance than a help in that regard.

    However, there is a difference between providing an outline and necessarily encouraging note taking. I think providing and outline might not be a bad thing at all just depending on the context and what-have-you.

    And the funny thing is that even though I don’t encourage note-taking, I have one older woman who has told me that she regularly likes to transcribe my entire sermon in shorthand whenever she can. God works in mysterious ways.

    I personally like the idea of giving out the text before the sermon and outlines after the sermon. Best of both worlds maybe?

  11. That Lloyd-Jones quote is one of the reasons I provide a detailed outline (A5 sized) – it saved people struggling to take notes.

    However I reckon I might need to encourage them to put the notes down and not slavishly look at them while I’m preaching!